In a historic virtual event, five nations of the Americas gathered to focus on coordination, cooperation, and collaboration for space research and development opportunities.
The Americas Space Conference — co-hosted by U.S. Space Command (SPACECOM), U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), and the U.S. Space Force — was a two-day event held on November 4-5 that aligned with the U.S. Department of Defense strategy of multinational security cooperation and strategic partnership.
Space defense experts from the United States, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and Peru participated in the conference, and though each nation has different strategies, there are natural overlaps, said U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Galen Ojala, SOUTHCOM’s director of Space Forces at Air Forces Southern.
“These overlaps are opportunities to solve challenges together,” Lt. Col. Ojala added.
The participating nations coordinate efforts in regular bilateral agreements, but the conference was a way to identify challenges and opportunities in a multilateral forum, said U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Peter Atkinson, SPACECOM’s chief of International Engagements.
“Space is a fundamental domain for the security and development of our nations and a relevant variable for the multilateral collaboration among the air forces of the American continent,” said Chilean Air Force Major General Francisco Torres, director of Operations.
U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Mike Bernacchi, SPACECOM director of Strategy, Plans and Policy, called the conference and subsequent conversation an opportunity to “grow and strengthen the great partnerships we have with each of you.”
“Our space engagements are just the beginning of determining just how strong our future collaboration can be,” Rear. Adm. Bernacchi said to the participants on November 4. “By facilitating dialogue on the topics of space situational awareness, and cooperation and planning, partnerships with the commercial and civil space industry, these and future talks strengthen all our respective space programs and support the safe and peaceful use of space worldwide.”
In recognizing the extreme importance of space as a new, contested domain “where there are no sidelines,” this is one of the most transformational periods in the U.S. military’s history, Rear Adm. Bernacchi said. The U.S. relies on allies and partners in daily operations, planning, and strategy development to achieve common objectives.
“Space debris, of any result, does not stay in one place. It passes through the space traffic of all nations,” Rear Adm. Bernacchi said. “The only way to truly counter that is to dissuade, deter, and establish norms of responsible behavior as we have for the sea, air, and land domains.”
Cooperation and coordination are defining attributes of space security and shared success in the space domain. The presentations on research and development during this conference were yet another example of where participants could partner, said U.S. Space Force Lieutenant General William Liquori, deputy chief of Space Operations for Strategy, Plans, Programs, Requirements and Analysis.
During one of the sessions, Lt. Gen. Liquori emphasized the participating nations’ shared interest in space moving forward.
“The best part of this conference is being able to listen to your thoughts today and to recognize the path forward on how we can continue to work together as we venture into this new frontier,” he said. “As sovereign nations, we all have our own goals, our own objectives. But we do have shared interest in the ensuring access to, and peaceful use of the space domain.”
More people throughout the world are understanding the importance of space to their everyday lives — including communication, navigation, and weather forecasting — and it would be devastating for many people to lose these capabilities, said U.S. Space Force Lieutenant Colonel Bobby Schmitt, SOUTHCOM’s Space Integrated Planning Element chief.
Peruvian Air Force Major General Javier Martín Tuesta Márquez, head of the Space Agency of Peru, highlighted common interests from the participants with topics such as space situational awareness, space weather, and the use of satellite images to attend multiple needs, especially those related to humanitarian aid in case of disasters.
“The Americas have seen a surge of space activity,” Lt. Col. Ojala said. “Various civil and defense ministries actively operate and pursue additional capabilities across industry and academia for the good of their people and regional security. On a single overflight of Earth, their satellites support urban planning, crop estimates during COVID, law enforcement, environmental monitoring, and territorial security.”
The Americas Space Conference revolved around the tireless search for the development of space capabilities and the consolidation of alliances in Latin America, Colombian Air Force Brigadier General Eliot Gerardo Benavides González, commander of Human Resources Command, said.
These are extremely important “so that the five countries involved significantly improve access and exploitation of the space domain for the growth and well-being of our peoples,” he added. “With a strong commitment to research, innovation, development in nanosatellites, artificial intelligence, propulsion, and multiple areas of research across space.”
Discussion during the first Americas Space Conference was guided by Dr. Thomas Cooley, U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory’s Space Vehicles Directorate chief scientist. Cooley is a flag officer-level technical civilian.
“This event was extremely useful to equalize the diverse views of the air forces of the allied countries on important topics to be developed,” Brazilian Air Force Major General José Vagner Vital, executive vice president of Brazil’s Space Systems Commission. “Common interests were identified and opportunities for joint actions were highlighted. Without a doubt, this event brought the prospect of a promising future for multilateral activities in outer space for the countries of the American continent.”